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March 10, 2014

A Lunch BIT from Hijacking Sustainability by Adrian Parr

Adrian Parr’s Hijacking Sustainability has a general aim in common with Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister’s Eco-Business. Both take on the mainstreaming and commodification of sustainability. Both books ask what’s behind ecobranding, the embrace of socially responsible investing. The difference between the two books lies in their intellectual approach, which for Parr relies heavily on theory, specifically the work of Deleuze and Guattari and Hardt and Negri. As one review of the book put it:

Parr moves the rubric of sustainability away from a special interest group of “environmentalists” to a more nuanced analysis of the relationship between economics and ecologies. She broadens the premise of “sustainable design and theory” to encompass “a system of knowledge that shapes subjectivities,” indicating that “it creates new ways of feeling, thinking, and intuiting life by charting the powers of art and science together.” However, as the book’s title indicates, Parr’s premise is that such shaping is being hijacked as “the power of sustainability culture is appropriated by the mechanisms of State and corporate culture” to serve their own ends.

She demonstrates this mediation of environmental goal by corporate interests with analyses of BP and Wal-Mart, Hollywood activists, and (almost hilariously) the idea of a “green” army. At each step, she finds that the more mainstream culture embraces the sustainability movement's concern over global warming and poverty, the more “sustainability culture” advances the profit-maximizing values of corporate capitalism.

Or, as she puts it in one of the most direct and forceful samples of the book’s prose:

For BP and Wal-Mart, their new ecobrands aim to offset the perception of corporate excess by promoting an image of corporate responsibility that relies on the idea that a corporation can use its power to introduce a sense of sustainable consumption into the shopping equation. I remain unconvinced by the corporate beast reincarnating itself as man’s best friend, for along with the dog we also inherit the fleas.

Check out The Greening of Junkspace: A BIT of Hijacking Sustainability.

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